Just think, I wanted to fight him and now I grieve for him.” The news that former Colón, Boca Juniors, River Plate and Independiente star Julio César Toresani had been found dead in his hometown of Santa Fe hit hard thousands of kilometres to the north, where in Sinaloa Diego Maradona had only just wrapped up the celebrations after seeing his Dorados side reach the Liga Ascenso semi-finals and remain in contention for promotion to the Mexican top flight.
Toresani, 51, is believed to have taken his own life in the office he occupied in the headquarters of the Santa Fe Football League, where he had been staying since February after finding himself out of work following a failed coaching spell at Uruguay’s Rampla Juniors.
Tributes flowed in from across the world of football for the ex-midfielder, who lifted the Primera División title three times with River, in the wake of the news.
None, though, carried more poignancy than the message sent from his former adversary. The pair tangled in an unforgettable on-field fight 24 years ago that prompted one of Maradona’s most notorious public outbursts.
Toresani and Colón lay in wait for Boca in none other than the match that heralded Diego’s return to professional football in October, 1995. The legend had been away from the pitch for over a year due to the ban incurred for doping offences at the 1994 World Cup, dabbling in coaching during underwhelming spells at Racing Club and Deportivo Mandiyú.
No sooner had his 15-month suspension expired than Boca snapped up their former idol, creating huge expectations for his return. It may not have been a vintage performance from the rusty Diego, but he certainly did not disappoint in terms of controversy.
During t he f i r s t h a l f Maradona’s Boca team-mate Claudio Caniggia provoked the wrath of the away team with a vicious challenge on Colón’s Dante Unali. Referee Francisco Lamolina quickly found himself surrounded by players from both sides, with the already booked Toresani leading Colón’s remonstrations while Diego also pushed his weight around. Lamolina eventually took control with three yellow cards: one for the original offender, Caniggia; another for Maradona and the same punishment for Toresani, leading to his expulsion.
The feud between the pair did not end there. “Maradona got me sent off, he got me sent off. Later I couldn’t give a fuck about whatever he has to say,” the player fired off to reporters. “But I would like to have him in front of me to see if he does those things he said he’d do to me, that after the game he was going to get me. I’d go looking for him at his house.”
Diego’s memorable response did not take long to arrive. “This I swear on my children, and I’ll say it again to Toresani: Segurola and Habana streets, 4310, seventh floor,” the star fumed, revealing his address in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Devoto to Toresani and the entire footballing world. “Let’s see if he lasts 30 seconds with me.”
Remarkably, within a year the pair would be team-mates at Boca, after Toresani swapped his native Santa Fe for the Bombonera. “After that famous fight he came to play at Boca and we were great team-mates,” Maradona continued in a tribute to his former companion posted on social media on Monday. “I spoke to him many times on the phone and I considered taking him as my assistant [at Dorados]... My soul mourns, my condolences to the entire family. I hope his children share their father’s heart.”
Toresani’s final years demonstrate the pitfalls for many former professional footballers, who aside from a handful of notable exceptions – Maradona himself, for one – go through life after hanging up their boots little noticed and in isolation. Few outside of the late coach’s immediate circle seem to have known of his recent battles against depression, intensified by divorce proceedings and separations from his family, and precious little was done to contain him after an earlier, failed suicide attempt just weeks prior to his passing.
Support networks for former pros are all but non-existent, a phenomenon that Maradona also criticised during his tribute to his old friend and one-time rival. The anecdote that links the two ex-stars belongs to the ages, but the lesson of this week’s horrifying events should also be taken to heart: much more needs to be done to protect personalities like Toresani once they end their playing careers.